Grocery Diaries

I’m a Line Cook and Currently Out of Work — Here’s How Much I Spend on 2 Weeks’ Worth of Food

updated Mar 31, 2021
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Credit: Courtesy of Alex

Name: Alex
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Number of people in household: 2 (my roommate, Amber, and me). We share groceries and I pretty much do all of the cooking.
Age: 27 and 28
Occupation: I’m a line cook but am currently unemployed due to COVID. Amber is a musician.
Grocery shopping for how long? Two weeks
Where did you shop? ShopRite, Wegmans, and a bi-weekly farm share
Did you get your groceries delivered or did you go to the store? We got them delivered.
How much did you spend? $269.20 ($182.57 at ShopRite, $54.63 at Wegmans, and $32 on our farm share)
Dietary restrictions? I’m a vegetarian but Amber is not! Because I do all the cooking, though, Amber eats vegetarian by default.

How did you choose where to buy groceries?

COVID has thrown everything in my life for a loop — and my grocery shopping habits are no exception. Since my job shut down in March of 2020, I’ve been out of work and receive both unemployment and EBT (food stamps). Without the help of food stamps I have no idea how, or if, I would be able to afford rent, bills, and food for this amount of time.

Neither myself nor my roommate have a car, and the nearest grocery store is farther than a walkable distance away. We choose to get our groceries delivered because that’s what feels safest to us. We predominantly shop at ShopRite because it’s the only store available to us that takes food stamps for grocery delivery. Unfortunately, ShopRite sometimes doesn’t have everything I’m looking for or is out of stock on things that I’ve ordered, so most weeks we have to pad our trip with another order on Instacart. Handling two orders and paying for delivery twice is obviously not my preference, but ultimately I’d rather be able to get a majority of our groceries on food stamps and only have to pay a little extra for the non-crucial ones.

What time did you shop and what was it like?

Because we get our groceries delivered, I shop on the app. This particular time was a little stressful because there was a big storm in Philly where we live, so when I tried to place an order for our usual grocery day (Wednesday), there were no slots until Friday. It was ultimately no big deal and I was able to scrounge up a couple of pantry meals while we waited. Although it did set my regular grocery cycle back two days.

How did you meal plan?

Given my background as a professional cook and our budget on food stamps, I am super organized when it comes to meal planning. We eat pretty much all three meals a day at home. If we order takeout, it’s maybe once per week, and usually not for dinner. I plan out every dinner we’re going to have for the full two weeks and then make my grocery list based on what we will need for those dinners (plus our regular staples and the stuff we like to have on hand for breakfasts and lunches). I try to use the circular that ShopRite puts out with all their coupons to guide ingredient and dish choices. Additionally, I try to incorporate at least one pantry/freezer meal per week if possible (lentil soup this time around), to utilize what I already have on hand and reduce the amount of food we need to purchase.

What did you buy?

“Meat”: Like I mentioned earlier, I’m a vegetarian, so we don’t eat actual meat. This week I snagged some Beyond sausages, veggie lunch meat, and three blocks of tofu.

Pantry: A bag of dry red lentils, a bag of dry white beans, ketchup, powdered turmeric, garlic powder, a can of coconut milk, maple syrup, a bag of sugar, a bag of raw almonds, coconut water, a can of fava beans, canned jackfruit, vegetable oil, a box of Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt (my first and only love), and two boxes of cereal (Honey Bunches of Oats for Amber, and Cocoa Pebbles for me).

Produce: Parsley, scallions, dill, rosemary, lemongrass, a serrano chili, a blood orange, four limes, two lemons, an avocado, a head of garlic, a cucumber, a half-pound bag of green beans, a head of broccoli, a bunch of broccoli rabe, a bunch of kale, a bulb of fennel, apples, bananas, sweet potatoes, red onions, shallots, two watermelon radishes, a head of red cabbage, and celeriac. 

Credit: Courtesy of Alex

Dairy: Six vegan yogurts, two pints of oat milk ice cream, sliced pepper Jack, sliced Swiss, string cheese, shredded mozzarella, shredded cheddar, grated Pecorino, feta, eggs, and oat milk.

Bread: Flour and corn tortillas, english muffins, sliced bread, and rolls.

How much did you spend?

We spent $182.57 at ShopRite, $54.63 at Wegmans, and $32 on our farm share for a total of $269.20.

What couldn’t you find? 

This week is a bit over our normal food budget, primarily because I had to place a slightly larger Instacart order to cover what we couldn’t get at ShopRite. (ShopRite didn’t have canned jackfruit, fava beans, fennel, feta cheese, corn tortillas, kale, vegetable oil, and english muffins in stock.)

What do you plan on making?

Breakfasts: We already have homemade vegan egg patties and vegan sausages in the freezer (which are great for breakfast sandwiches). We stocked up on vegan yogurt and homemade granola, and cereal. We will probably have breakfast burritos with eggs and cheese, breakfast sandwiches, omelettes (mostly for Amber, I’m not a big egg eater), oatmeal, and ful medames.

Credit: Courtesy of Alex

Lunch: I always like to have all the fixins’ on hand to make sandwiches. At least once a week we have some type of soba noodles with chili oil — two things that are always in my pantry. I also love to have quesadillas, kale salads, and, my all-time favorite, PB&J, for lunch. Amber is all about leftovers so if I can, I’ll make a little extra portion of dinner for her to have for lunch the next day. 

Snacks/Drinks: I like to keep things like dried fruit, nuts, fig bars, bananas, apples, and string cheese on hand for snacking. We also stock up on sparkling water when we get groceries. My current obsession is the raspberry lime from Poland Spring — it tastes like a Slurpee and also kind of like Mountain Dew Baja Blast from Taco Bell. Amber likes coconut water (none for me, thanks), so she got a few.

Credit: Courtesy of Alex

Dinner: I use our menu as a shopping list so I meticulously plan out our dinners in advance and no groceries go to waste. This is what we’re having. 

  • Tofu larb with blistered green beans and rice. (Christina Chaey’s technique has seriously changed my life and my tofu game.)
  • Pasta with broccoli rabe, butter beans, and Beyond sausage.
  • The ABCV whole-roasted cauliflower. (If you haven’t checked this recipe out, GO NOW; it’s absolutely amazing and surprisingly easy to do at home.)
  • Greek salads (red onion, feta, chickpeas, cucumber, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, tomato).
  • Taiwanese 3-cup tofu with broccoli over wheat noodles (a recipe from my favorite vegan Insta-chef, @chez.jorge).
  • Burrito bowls (rice, black beans, tofu “beef” crumbles, tomato, radish, avocado, red onion, cabbage, corn).
  • Jackfruit rendang sandwiches (stewed coconut milk and lemongrass jackfruit with cucumber, red onion, and serrano chili salad).
  • Black bean and roasted yam tacos (cabbage and radish slaw, avocado).
  • Beyond sausage, fennel, and kale ragout over pecorino polenta.
  • Joshua McFadden’s fried celery root and citrus salad (plus a lemony white bean and dill purée — gotta have that protein!).
  • Coconut milk and ginger red lentil dal over rice.
  • Cheese pizza (I keep at least one ball of pizza dough in my freezer at all times in case of emergency).
  • Lentil soup with homemade semolina bread.
  • Marinated white bean salad on toast (lots of herbs, feta, roasted red peppers, red onion, leftover semolina bread).

How is this different from how you normally shop?

Pre-COVID, I would have been on my way home from my Wednesday lunch shift at the restaurant, blissfully perusing the aisles of Trader Joe’s and mulling over an impulse fancy chocolate purchase without a care in the world. That used to be my way of kicking off my “weekend,” but that feels like an eternity ago. “Normal” now is this system of multiple grocery deliveries and hoping that string cheese is in stock.

Compared to the past few weeks, this shop was slightly more expensive, as I mentioned above, primarily due to ShopRite being out of stock of more things than usual. Oddly enough, grocery shopping is a calming experience for me. I’m a very organized person, so checking everything off a list and knowing I have all the pieces to the puzzle for the week is an intensely gratifying experience — one that I miss very much. Post-COVID, my first stop is going to be the Trader Joe’s cheese aisle.

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